Friday, March 25, 2016

View Award Nominee Profile- Michael Zajac- Bard

Photo by Jesse Gifford
How many times did you perform in 2015?

Last year was quite the whirlpool of activity for Swoop, with many occasions to perform, especially since I’ve tried to expand my performance schedule within the Realms in various mediums. From chamber music, to tournament competitions to general merry making, I have been active on the tavern stages in many venues. Officially, I believe I have competed in 4 sanctioned bardic tourneys, and been asked to provide music about 3-4 separate occasions.

Why do you opt to perform in Realms?

While there are many good reasons to perform for your friends that I would normally spout to anyone remotely interested in performing at an event, I come from a different point of motivation. As a full time music student I do not lack performance opportunities in the real world and thus use larping as a venue for fulfilling an unmet need in my daily life. Similar to the merchants who offer high quality, low priced garb and weapons so that many people can utilize them to improve their and fellow players’ immersion, I offer my service on behalf of a better game. From the ballad of the great battle or fallen hero whom many remember dearly, to a playful cadence that springs the tavern to their feet, live music has a way of adding much to the atmosphere of any event. As many of our events are causes for celebration of fellowship, hard work and community, the addition of music is often the missing element that conveys the mirth of when we come together to revel in our shared fantasy world.

What do you do for performances and what are some things you keep in mind that you feel helps to make you successful? 

I will break this question into two sections, since the main two formats of performing, tournament competitions and tavern ambience performances, or “gigs”, require two separate methods of preparation.

For announced tournaments, I always do wholly original compositions. There is much history hidden in away in various libraries, tales and adventuring minds that deserves to be codified into song. Usually with enough foresight, the quest can be broken into three steps. The first step is collecting the story itself. After hearing a hot tip of a past event or deciding on a general theme to cover, I’ll contact my older connected sources who can guide me to a person who had personal experience or a trove of information (such as the library of Ivory or the various Realms websites). From there I’ll conduct an interview or research all the major points and important details of the event in question, sometimes seeking multiple sources for clarity. The next step is always the hardest, the composing. I’ll let The View and its readers onto a little secret from the bards: most people are foggy on what true “period music” sounds like, so composition choices are vast. The first and hardest choice is always on the stylistic setting of the piece. From the Renaissance to Baroque, to writing swing and rap tunes, I have run the gamut. Often my guiding factor is the character or central emotion of the subject to portray. Then I begin the inner workings of the piece, lyrics and chords and catchy choruses and such, which is a nice exercise due to the lack of composing in real life which takes a week. Also, writing lyrics has been a new frontier, since apparently words are hard.

Photo by Dustin Mack
For setting up for a gig, the process is more about quantity over quality. Usually I aim for 8-9 songs, which goes about 45 minutes, an hour with some percussive interludes. I usually stick to a certain genre, such as Irish or sea chanteys, to give a sense of unity to the set. Then there is the task of finding selections of songs and, when possible, editing in some Realms culture into the lyrics. The rehearsals usually take longer for these performances, due to the increased bulk of music needed, though having recordings and other resources helps.

For the third step of both types of performances, the warm-up before is a pivotal step. Depending on my comfort level with piece(s) I may do a quick rehearsal over any sections or songs that need reinforcing. The form of the piece is where the most problems lurk, so as long as that run smoothly,
the song usually goes well. When I work with an accompanist I or instrumentalist we usually tune, do
some technical warmups, then a full run through the piece or pieces. I try to not warm-up too early for a performance, lest nerves or being cold impact my performance, usually within 15-25 minutes. Being able to break away from the crowd and find a quiet spot to focus is a key component of my pre-performance success.

What are some of the challenges you face regarding performing?

Especially with performing my own pieces in tourneys, nerves affect my breathing often. While I try to remain calm before performing, it’s very nerve wracking to put your personal work out there, especially when it’s about someone and that person is out there. Otherwise, I find audiences to be respectful and very grateful of quality performances.

Tell us about a memorable moment you had while performing?

My favorite time performing was probably one that I prepared the least for, At ToC this year playing the vuvuzela for a captivated audience. I originally was not going to perform, but I believe when Effa came over and asked if I was doing something since there was a lack of performers, I remembered I had packed away a few horns, as I assume everyone does. I love having performances that are interactive with the audience, as watching people clap, stomp or dance around a fire are often the nicest compliments to a musician. Having the circle of people sit around the fire, hooting and clapping at me and a little plastic horn, was a lot of spontaneous fun.

If someone wanted to get involved in performing in Realms what advice would you have for them? 

For those out there wanting to get involved in performing, I wholly recommend it! There’s lots of skills that can be shown off to your fellow realmsies, from music to dancing, to acrobatics or comedy. The first thing I would say is practice! Though we play a game where we pretend to have skills and magic that we don’t normally have, this is something that requires rehearsal and time spent honing a craft to truly wow people. Be able to go through your whole act, without stopping, at least once or twice before the big day. Second, while you’re rehearsing, remember that you’ll be interacting with an audience as well! Showmanship goes a long way in a performance, so smiling, looking confident, and how you carry yourself whilst performing will greatly impact the audience’s opinion. Thirdly, I have had a lot of success with getting audiences involved in some minor way while I perform. Having them clap, sing a repeating line or otherwise involve themselves almost always gets people to enjoy your performance more, while also takes some the of the stress of the solo spotlight off yourself. The key thing with this is it must be tasteful, so less can be more. Finally, remember the Realms is a magic space for many people to flaunt their more eccentric sides, so many people are very open and offer a good forgiving audience, perfect for the enterprising bard. So go out there, have fun and make some moments happen!

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